It had been a rainy weekend that preceded that day in July 2011, when 14-year-old best friends Hannah Kendall and Jade Garza gathered in the early morning in Whiteside County, Illinois, to pull tassels from the tops of corn plants. It was exhaustive work that many kids in this Midwesterner town did to earn money during the summer.
But on July 25, about four hours into the workday, a jolt from an electrified center pivot irrigator – the kind of machinery with sweeping metal arms that waters farm fields – struck Hannah and Jade dead. The irrigator had apparently been struck by lightning the weekend before. The field was still dotted with puddles that following Monday when workers set food on the property to detassle the corn, a process that allows two varieties of corn plants to “mate” in order to generate higher-yielding hybrid corn.
The families of the girls filed lawsuits against Commonwealth Edison Co., (ComEd) the company that installed equipment on the farm, and Monsanto Co., which provided seed and services for the corn farm. The girls were hired by R&J Enterprises of IL Inc., and Monsanto was R&E’s only client.
The consolidated lawsuit filed by the estates of both Hannah and Jade, as well as two girls who were also injured in the electrocution incident, claimed that ComEd negligently installed electrical equipment on the farm, and that Monsanto failed to ensure the cornfield was free of electrical hazards, like the irrigation machine. The trial judge granted a summary judgement to both ComEd and Monsanto.
But the plaintiffs appealed, alleging that the claims against ComEd should be reinstated because there was sufficient factual basis for their expert’s opinion. This week, seven and a half years after the horrific accident, a three-judge Appellate Court panel ruled that ComEd must face the claims against it. Monsanto, however, was dismissed from the case.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch